A Travellerspoint blog

Charming Charleston

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2 hours after leaving Savannah, we arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. We checked into our hotel then checked out a local taco joint located in a converted garage / service station conveniently called Fuel. Influenced by the Caribbean and showcasing local produce, the menu and beers were a hit with us!

We were up early the next day to catch a free bus into the heart of town. As with Savannah, the town is huge but the Historic District makes up only a small but busy section. As we later found out, most of the homes within the Historic District would sell for millions of dollars and strict heritage rules apply to any renovation (i.e no external colours that would have looked out of place at the time the house was built). We decided that on this crisp Autumn day we would tour the Historic District in a horse drawn carriage and whilst walking to the departure point, we were inundated with carriage ride vendors. Palmetto Carriage Works are the oldest carriage tour company in the city and once onboard our carriage, we stopped at the 'Carriage Lottery'. The Historic District covers 30 blocks and over 300 years of history so to evenly regulate carriage traffic throughout the city, 1 of 3 routes is randomly selected for you by the city. Only 20 carriages can be out on the roads at any one time and the lottery helps add some excitement as you can't plan ahead. We were assigned zone 3 which is the largest zone and away we went.

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Charleston is one of 3 'walled cities' remaining in North America and it wasn't until this tour that we were aware of this. The other two are St Augustine, Florida and Quebec City, Canada. Charleston is also a city of churches and we saw, and heard, plenty on this tour. Also as with Savannah, Charleston has plenty of haunted areas, one of which is the Old City Jail which was in use between 1802 and 1939. When I was researching the years the jail was in use (it is now a project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Millennium Council but was previously used as a College for the Building Arts), I came across this quote on 'Bulldogtours.com': "**This is quite possibly the scariest place you will ever go. The experience is NOT recommended for small children or men that cry easily.**" Hahahahaha!

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We found a small place to eat after our tour and it was here that I decided to try a Southern traditional favourite, fried green tomatoes, for the first time. They were wonderful and if you would like to try a healthy version for yourself, here is a fantastic recipe: 'Baked' Fried Green Tomatoes. To walk off our lunch we headed down to the Waterfront park and the first thing Carys saw was an ice cream shop. She just wanted to eat the huge ice cream but we distracted her by spotting the focal point of the park, a pineapple fountain!

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From the park, Patriot's Point can be seen which is home to the USS Yorktown carrier, amongst other exhibits. We didn't have time on this trip to visit but I believe it is a whole day and rewarding experience. At least it was a great view and there was also plenty of sailing activity out on the water.

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We had plenty of fun in the park and walked back via 'Rainbow Row', a line of pretty pastel coloured houses. We also wandered around some night markets before finding a great brewery restaurant with a glass elevator to allow great views of the brewing vats. It was here that we tried another Southern 'delight' that we'd heard about on the tour, Hush Puppies. I think ours had bacon in them and if they didn't, they should have!

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Walking back to our car, we ventured past a park with a huge Christmas tree. That evening, the Christmas lights had been lit for the first time this season and it was a great prelude to our next destination, the annual Festival of Lights. The email link will take you to a 'drive through' video of all the lights and it was awesome to see the detail that went into some of the displays. There was no limit to the number of times you could drive around the park but the best part of the evening was parking the car and walking around the various paths to the Christmas village. For $2 you could purchase 3 marshmallows on a stick to roast over an open fire. I thought that was a great idea until I saw the size of the marshmallows but by then it was too late. We each had a marshmallow stick when one between the three of us would have more than enough. They were tasty though! The village also included artwork by local school children, a huge sand sculpture, games and of course, Santa himself!

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A late night but a fun night and something that we won't see for a long while. Thank you Charleston!

On the final day of our road trip, we did a little more walking and exploring before finishing off at the South Carolina Aquarium. A 4D short movie of the Polar Express was another fantastic prelude to the white Christmas trip we had planned. We had a great time on our little trip away for Thanksgiving and although we didn't celebrate in a home with family or friends, we were thankful to celebrate being together in this wonderful country.

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Posted by dinige 19:00 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Stunning Savannah

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For the Thanksgiving long weekend, we chose a short road trip to Savannah. Before we visited Savannah, my mind's eye imagined beautiful old, Southern style houses, friendly people, people with long, drawn out speech (the Southern drawl) and Forrest Gump. We certainly weren't disappointed! The weather was sunny but with icy winds (less than 10 degrees celsius), which made a big change from warm Jacksonville, but the weather was helpful in preparing us for our upcoming snowy Christmas. The first thing we did once we arrived was to jump onboard a tourist trolley to soak up the history and work out what we wanted to see first. Carys chose for us when she spied a fantastic playground in the beautiful Forsyth Park. Forsyth Park is most well known for its lovely central fountain and large weeping oak trees. It is very popular amongst tourists and locals alike. Down one end of the park is a fountain, near the middle is a large playground and down the other end is the former Military parade ground with its large open space, perfect for ballgames.

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Savannah is home to some beautifully restored homes and some of the prettiest are located on or near the numerous Squares. The most famous of these houses is the Mercer Williams House, thanks to its prominence in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Although closed to visitors during our visit to Savannah, the description in the book and glimpses through the windows were enough to know that it has been spectacularly renovated. Some other historical houses are also famous for their own reasons. There is the Hamilton Turner House, for being the first house in Savannah to have electricity. Also, the Wayne Gordon House, better known as the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts. If you would like to know more about the architecture or history of the homes, you can do so here: Savannah Historic Homes.

Mercer House
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An interesting sight we noticed whilst walking around was the presence of pineapples, whether they be on pedestals, gates, drainpipes or atop decorative floral displays. Apparently, the pineapple is a symbol of wealth and hospitality dating back to the times of Christopher Columbus. Being an exotic fruit and unable to be grown at the time in the Americas, the pineapple was a unique curiosity whose popularity grew such that only affluent hosts could afford to offer it to their guests. In doing so, the fruit became a symbol of generosity, hospitality and wealth and sculpted or carved pineapples soon started appearing in prominent exterior places where guests may pass by.

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The movie Forrest Gump is also another famous Savannah drawcard as even after 20 years, people still love to see the sites where the movie was filmed. The famous bench scene was filmed in Chippewa Square but the bench was only for filming and was then removed and placed in the Savannah History Museum. The traffic direction was also reversed to suit the scene. The diner where Jenny worked is actually called Debi's Restaurant and it is still family owned. We didn't eat there due to the holiday weekend but at least we have a photo!

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After wandering around the Historic district for a while, we worked our way down to River Street. One of the first things we saw were the taffy shops so we popped in for some free samples. We also filled a tin with enough taffy to last a whole year (we aren't big lolly/candy eaters)!

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For Thanksgiving dinner, we had chosen a traditional buffet at a larger hotel overlooking the water. We were greeted by the largest gingerbread house we had ever seen!

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The meal was great and so was the view.
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The next morning we set off back down to River St for a Christmas cruise with Santa. An annual tradition, the Riverboat sails with kids of all ages enjoying the sights and commentary up the river and photos and gifts with Mr and Mrs Claus. Carys was too scared to sit for a photo but she was happy to receive a small gift from Mrs Claus.

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Before we left for our next destination, we stopped in for an ice cream at Leopold's. We enjoyed looking at the movie props and also the wonderfully different flavours of ice cream. Lemon custard was my favourite! The props throughout the store are all from movies that the owner worked on throughout his behind the scenes Hollywood career. Much of the store is also from the original Leopold's location before they closed and reopened a few years later.

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Lastly, for those of you who have read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and ever wondered what The Lady Chablis looks like, here she is!

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Posted by dinige 18:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Corn, a Hospital Visit and Birthday Cake


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The annual College football game between the Florida University Gators and the Georgia University Bulldogs is a very popular game, held nearly every year since 1915. It is held in the neutral territory of Jacksonville and has become so popular in recent years that is has become known as 'the 'World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party'. It was even mentioned in the book 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' by John Berendt, among others. We were lucky enough to get some tickets to this game and also to share the day with Aidan and Meg and also friends visiting from Australia, Sarah and Daniel.

The whole day is not just about the game itself, but also about the rivalry between the two teams. Everywhere we went around the stadium, we saw people dressed in either orange and blue (Gators) or red and white (Bulldogs), decorated cars, trailers, tents etc in team colours, tailgaters EVERYWHERE, and people drinking. There was a very large security presence but people appeared to be behaving relatively respectably and drinking whilst walking to the game (although this was not acted upon by the police). We stopped off for some beer and some of the best BBQ we've had yet set up in the car park of a small convenience store. Had we known that there was no alcohol in the stadium (due to the game being a College game), we would have bought more than half a carton of beer!!

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The marching band rivalry is also very competitive and throughout the game, the opposing bands were seated at opposite ends of the stands belting out their tunes. At half time, the bands came out for their own showdown. We left after the third quarter as Carys was becoming very restless and the game had already drawn on for nearly 3 hours. Georgia eventually won the game 23-20.

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Around this time, we discovered a new friend living in our front garden. He likes sitting in the sun and eating small lizard and bugs. Meet Randall!

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We believe that Randall is a Southern Black Racer and we wave to him whenever we spy him through the window. He usually sits on top of our front hedges so he is easy to spot. Meeting Randall was also a good opportunity to teach Carys about how snakes shed their skin as we later found a complete skin, including face, although I can't find that photo anywhere.

We found out relatively late in the Halloween season about a crop maze nearby called the Amazing Grace Crop Maze. Every year, a different theme is planned for the maze and this year the maze theme was 'Amazing Grace' (the words were the maze and you can see the aerial photo at the bottom of the link page). By the time we got to the maze (which is not planted with corn but with sorghum), the plants were very brown and it was very quiet...all the better for us to have the maze and grounds to ourselves! There was a corn crib, cow train, pumpkin patch and more family fun to enjoy and Carys loved exploring! We are looking forward to visiting again next year to explore the maze when it is greener to compare the difference.

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The next day, we visited the Jacksonville Fair for what we hoped would be a fun day and for most of our day, it was! Apart from Sideshow Alley, we enjoyed the racing pigs, watched chicks hatch, marvelled at the size of some of the cattle and avoided all things deep fried. A typical day at the fair until Carys injured her arm on one of the attractions. We believe she may have pinched her arm in a moving stairway but as soon as we saw her arm, we raced straight to the nearby Children's Hospital for x-rays. The Fairground staff were absolutely no help at all and the attraction supervisor didn't seem bothered that a young child had potentially broken her arm. Needless to say, we won't visit the Jacksonville Fair again! Thankfully, Carys eventually settled and allowed the x-rays to be taken and thankfully, she only suffered a fairly strong contusion which took a few weeks to fully recover from. The staff were wonderful and the Dr showed Carys her arm x-ray which she was very interested about. This was our first, and hopefully last, introduction to the the Florida hospital system!

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Food trucks are a big thing here in the USA and we are always keen to try the foods they have on offer. There was a Food Truck Rally on the morning of Carys' birthday party and we ducked into town to see what was happening. At a guess, there were probably about 15 trucks and the crowds were small when we arrived so we were able to get in, grab a bite to eat and head home to prep for our Little Gym party (we actually had a classmate party 2 hours before ours so we had 2 Little Gym parties on the same day!) My favourite meal were the swedish meatballs from the Swedish Bistro truck but my favourite truck was Chew Chew Food Truck, and not just for the Chuck Norris joke of the Day!

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Ok, party time! Carys had a Dora and Diego themed party at the Little Gym and we invited all of her classmates and some of her Australian friends. We served Aussie food like mini pavlovas, cheese and vegemite crackers, fairy bread and the almost obligatory chicken nuggets and it was fantastic to see everyone have a wonderful time! Carys had an awesome party and loved all of her presents; Poppy even left some wonderful dress up clothes and a new costume box to start her costume collection. Thanks Poppy!

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Posted by dinige 13:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Halloween


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We began our month of Halloween activities with some local fun. We shopped around the local costume shops trying to decide how to decorate our house and what costumes we should wear on the big night. Whilst shopping, Carys wanted to try an indoor kids bungy and although we were sceptical that she would actually enjoy it, she loved it! I just love the look of joy on her face!

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We also attended a local Fall Festival and Carys couldn't wait to dress up as a Barbie Princess.
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As well as carving some traditional Jack-O-Lanterns, we also decorated some milk bottles to decorate the front yard. Carys drew on the sides of her bottle but she really wanted a picture of Mickey Mouse on the front of her homemade lantern. We used to put small treats in empty plastic bottles for Eddie to play with and when we started to decorate our Halloween bottles, we had to keep them away from him. Just the sound of an empty plastic bottle would always get Eddie excited about a possible treat! This excitement was a great sign that slowly but surely, he was starting to feel better and his twice daily nebulisation and mountain of medication was helping.

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The Jacksonville Zoo opened their gates for a special Halloween themed zoo adventure and this year, instead of braving the crowds at Disney, we thought we would stay local. Carys wanted to dress up as Dora the Explorer (naturally!) and we took a special light up lolly bucket for the lolly stations that we had to pass through. The zoo had special themed areas, jumping castles, dance areas with DJs and of course, the animals, although not all enclosures were open to the public. It was fantastic to visit the zoo at night and we all had a great time!

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To select our pumpkins for carving, we visited a local pumpkin patch one evening after Daddy returned home from work. We left our pumpkin picking as late as we could so that (hopefully) our pumpkins would last longer and although the selection wasn't huge, we found the perfect pumpkins for the designs we wanted to try. Carys even found herself her own little pumpkins.

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On Halloween day, Carys' school had a Halloween Parade and each class was able to dress up and parade around the carpark where parents were waiting to share candy. I was surprised at the effort some kids and parents had gone to and it was wonderful to see the delight in the kids faces when they saw familiar faces outside waiting for them. Many parents (like me) gave out healthier treats like muesli bars or yoghurt raisins and it was also funny to see some kids avoid those parents! Carys dressed up as Izzy from the Jake and the Neverland Pirates cartoon. Arrgh! Afterwards, a little Halloween party followed with Halloween themed morning tea.

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On Halloween night, we were all excited about our first American Halloween. Our costumes were ready, our lollies for visitors were by the door and we were trying to guess what time the first trick or treaters would arrive. Well, they arrived quite early (around 5pm) and we weren't dressed but that was not a problem. We left a bag out the front of the house with treats for people to help themselves, we dressed and departed on our trick or treating way. As we found out, the adults mostly sat out the front of their houses with wine or beer and snacks whilst the kids door knocked the street. We went up and down our cul de sac, around to an Aussie friend, then down to a big house party before returning home. We ran into a few people that we knew, and many that were surprised by our outfits and accents (still a novelty to some after all this time!). Carys had a fantastic time and although some adults wanted to give her fistfuls of lollies, we politely only accepted one piece per house. I was actually shocked at the amount of candy that some of the more rounder children (and some adults) were shovelling into their buckets! All the more reason to teach Carys about moderation saving things for others. Anyway, here we are at the start of our evening, Carys didn't want to wear her Dora wig but you get the idea. Stupidly, I forgot to charge my camera before we left so this is the only photo I have of us but if I find any others, I'll edit them in later. Next year, I promise more!

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Here is our haul at the end of the night. This is a 1 gallon bag which equates to about 3.8 litres and I am so glad we turned down the people handing out handfuls of lollies!

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Posted by dinige 12:20 Archived in USA Comments (1)

A visit from Poppy and a very sick Eddie


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After our adventures in Port St Joe and Boston, Eddie was a very sick boy for several weeks. On the night he arrived in America way back in March 2013, he became very sick overnight and after an expensive trip to the vet first thing the next morning, we discovered he had a severe case of Megaesophagus and Aspiration Pneumonia (meaning he had inhaled food whilst regurgitating). This was the first we knew of this rare illness and as far as all the further tests would show, it was idiopathic. From Wikipedia, "Megaesophagus (also known as ME or MegaE) is a condition in humans, cats and dogs where peristalsis fails to occur properly and the esophagus is enlarged. Normally, when the animal's esophagus is functioning properly, it acts as a muscle and pushes the food down the esophagus into the stomach. However, when an animal has megaesophagus, the esophagus stays enlarged and does not push the food down to the stomach. Therefore, the food fails to enter the stomach and often stays in the esophagus, and is eventually regurgitated, or enters the lungs through breathing, or decays in the esophagus."

After our 2 weeks away, Eddie was again diagnosed with AP and again, it took him several weeks to recover. He had lost almost 7 kgs (15 lbs) in two weeks, his ME had also become much worse and he had begun to regurgitate on his own saliva. Our beautiful, otherwise healthy dog had begun to slip away from us and we were determined to keep him with us and as happy as possible for as long as possible. This involved a lot of around the clock care and some new items to help us all. The first new item we acquired was a Neck Hug to elevate his head whilst he was lying down. The second was a Bailey Chair, lovingly handmade by the inspirational Susan and her husband from Bailey Chairs 4 Dogs. Susan is a multiple cancer survivor who donates all of her spare time to helping others battle this horrible disease. A Bailey Chair is used to keep the animal elevated when eating, drinking and resting whilst the food journeys down to the stomach using gravity instead of the damaged esophagus. Eddie never did work out how to back up into the chair and occasionally, he managed to jump out but eventually, we managed to get his weight back up to his normal healthy weight of around 30 kgs (66 lbs).

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To give you an idea of just how big this chair is, here is our Quality Control Officer.
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During this period of recuperation, Poppy arrived for a visit! We weren't able to get out as much as we would have liked but we were still able to manage a few local adventures. The first was to a Jacksonville Jaguars game where we saw our first decent half time performance from a marching band (dedicated to the Armed Forces). The mascot, Jaxon De Ville, also backflipped into the stadium from atop a stadium lightpole!

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Army (a tank)
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Navy (a submarine)
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Air Force (an aircraft). Unfortunately, I missed the Marine Corps tribute :(
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Next up was a trip to the Jacksonville Zoo where we fed stingrays, patted pygmy goats, rode the carousel and fed the parrots.

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We also visited St Augustine and the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to visit the original site of the nation's oldest city. The site itself has many interesting things to do and we spent a fair amount of time learning about the history of the area. Unfortunately though, we must have sampled a dodgy batch of water from the Fountain of Youth as we do not feel any younger! The water from the spring that we sampled was estimated to be over 200 years old and had a strong sulphur smell and taste to it. We were also treated to a live cannon firing and we were able to also see inside some traditional huts and see some original jewellery carvings.

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A Tampa Bay Rays game was also on the agenda whilst Poppy was visiting. The Rays were playing a postseason playoff series of 5 games against the Boston Red Sox to determine who would go on to play in the League Championship Series. The Red Sox won the series and then went on to win the World Series Championship. On the night we went to watch though, the atmosphere was electric, the Rays won and the dome glowed orange. The next morning we visited the Great Explorations Children's Museum and Carys ran around and played to her heart's content.

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Before Poppy went home to Australia, he indulged himself with a little cruise to the Bahamas. He had a fantastic time and although we missed him, we filled our time with a birthday party for one of our Little Gym friends and of course, looking after Eddie. We also did some more art and craft with Poppy and redecorated the drive way before bidding him farewell.

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Posted by dinige 19:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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